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EPISODE #11 5 Big Takeaways from 2020 with TechImpact CEO, Cathy Simpson





At the end of a year unlike any other, I’ve been reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on our region and, of course, in particular on our innovation agenda and tech sector.

There have been some real glimmers of hope and success among the stress and challenges. Never before have our unique advantages in Atlantic Canada been so clear.

What shines brightest is how this remarkable year has confirmed our people’s resilience and our industry’s potential. The pandemic shone a spotlight on our strengths, lighting the way forward.  Sounds a bit cheesy but guess what, it’s true.

This year brought more compassion and kindness in our everyday living, and I hope it continues into 2021.  What a gift it would be for all of us.  Hearing people’s stories brings such insight into where they have been.  We learn their personal perspectives.  It also gives us an opportunity to pause because when we listen to their stories, something often resonates inside each of us.  We relate in some way.  Through the TechTalks Podcast and blog and a host of other platforms, so many stories about our region and the people who make it great were shared.  And we’re just getting started. 

Here are some personal reflections about what this year has confirmed to me:  

1.    Our People Are Our Superpower

You hear it all the time: our community is supportive, welcoming and sharing.

Sometimes, when something is repeated over and over, you start to question it. Is this true? Is it really so special? Isn’t it like this everywhere?

It’s not. And the benefits of our culture of connection go beyond feeling good about being friendly. The results are tangible. Our ecosystem’s welcoming and generous nature results in a kind of altruism that’s rare and authentic. It means people are willing to give of themselves for the greater good. That the people who surround you believe that your ability to stay, grow and thrive is not only your success. It is theirs. They are invested in you.

This year, we saw how this neighbourliness is rooted in our broader culture.  When COVID-19  stay-at-home orders tested everyone’s commitment to each other, we passed with flying colours. We truly are in this together.

2.    We Are a Remote-Work Haven

While city-dwellers the world over rattled their condo cages, New Brunswickers were enjoying room to move indoors and outside. For the price of a downtown flat in Toronto or Vancouver, a home (with a home office with a door and a water view) is in reach here. Along with affordable housing and a competitive cost of living, there’s a high quality of life here, too, in our cozy cities, good schools and safe neighbourhoods.

As remote-work and hybrid models are widely becoming accepted, and the ability to work from anywhere increases, Atlantic Canada makes sense to both employers and staff.  Global companies can be based here and enjoy a lower cost of doing business and other advantages while still having an international workforce. And remote workers can swap condos and commutes for the Atlantic Canada good life.

In a world where you can work anywhere, work here. It’s affordable, beautiful, welcoming and safe.

3.    We Are a Small Place Where Big Things Happen.

Gordon Pitt’s fantastic new book, ‘Unicorn in the Woods,’ charted the thrilling rise of Radian 6 and Q1 Labs, the two biggest exits in New Brunswick history, totalling nearly $1 billion. Today, those sales are still motivating founders as examples that it can happen here. And then the darling of 2020 was Verafin!  WOW. WOW. WOW.  What else is there to say?

We punch above our weight for start-up growth, and with our incubators and accelerators, we’ve got the structure and support to do even more.

While being located far from the centre of things (according to some) has some drawbacks, such as arduous business travel, it brings benefits: the space to work, and without the distractions of the Silicon Valley or Waterloo scene. Our entrepreneurs aren’t drinking from the same well as those in other dense tech locales. There’s an independence of thought. 

Plus, there’s a culture of hard work, inventiveness, and resilience from coming up in a small and struggling place. We often shy away from talking about some of our region’s challenges, but pearls come from grit, right?

4.    Our Ecosystem is Mature and Resilient

A healthy ecosystem relies on a diverse mix of organisms, which is as true in the tech sector as it is in the natural world.  Atlantic Canada is home to a thriving network of tech professionals, mentors, support organizations, and funding partners. Together, we are growing the industry and successfully incubating and accelerating new companies and building clusters of expertise.

Our experience with building successful companies from idea to exit is significant. We know how to start-up and scale-up. Our entrepreneurial mindset and successes demonstrate the capability that’s been building for over 20 years, with IT companies of all sizes working alongside locally headquartered multi-nationals to create a critical mass of technology excellence.

5.    The Future is Bright

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, the ways we learn, live and work. What would have previously taken months, if not years, is happening in far shorter timelines. As every aspect of our lives becomes increasingly digital, opportunities abound. And we are ready.

We have the people and talent. We have the infrastructure. We have the history. We have the companies. Our doors are open here in Atlantic Canada.  We welcome your ideas, your culture, and your experience. 

2021 - let’s do this 2021.  We’re ready to go.  


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